Peter King, the dean of NFL sportswriters who joined Sports Illustrated in 1989, will announce this week if he is leaving the magazine after nearly 30 years or at least scaling back at SI and adding work somewhere else.
“I will have news later this week,” King told The Big Lead when reached by phone; he declined to elaborate further on any specifics.
Industry murmurs are that King has had interest from The Athletic, whose chief content officer Paul Fichtenbaum is the former SI editor-in-chief and has plucked a bunch of their alumni, and also NBC. King has been a reporter on NBC’s Football Night in America studio program since 2006 (since 2016 he has been more of a video contributor than an in-studio presence). And even though there’s been no smoke around it, ESPN could always use destination anchors on their homepage.
At first blush it may seem strange for NBC to be a destination for more digital work, but they acquired a big NFL presence online when they began licensing Mike Florio’s Pro Football Talk in 2009. There are a number of multimedia opportunities that are either already available to King at NBC or could be created for him.
Sports Illustrated is in a state of flux right now. Its parent company Time Inc. was officially purchased earlier this year by Meredith in a deal backed by the Koch brothers. Meredith was primarily interested in People to create synergies with its various home and family lifestyle magazines, and has openly said that SI, Time, Fortune, and Money are up for sale.
The best case scenario for SI is to be acquired by a benevolent billionaire — either one who grew up reading the publication and is fine losing millions of dollars a year to preside over the institution, or even more preferably someone who could catapult it back to greater profitability with resources and digital muscle like Jeff Bezos has done with the Washington Post. The worst case is vulture capitalists. (SI is reportedly still quite profitable from a combination of the Swimsuit issue still being a financial juggernaut, and cost cuts occurring in concert with revenue declines; Meredith is reportedly seeking $150 million for it.)
At the Super Bowl, I spent a whole day with Peter King and asked him about his future. He answered:
“I really don’t want to do quite as much as I’m doing right now. I have a great job mostly with SI, partly with NBC. We’ve done The MMQB for five years. This year, we combined The MMQB with SI’s NFL page for some reasons financial, some reasons journalistic. We were duplicating last year around the Super Bowl we had two separate stories about Tom Brady. I think the powers that be — and I totally understood — thought to put this together and combine forces. That’s really worked out well. I’ve been happy with it. But there’s just something about being in charge. For the first 33 years of my sportswriting career I was on my own. I was alone.”
“And then for the last five years I’ve done mostly what I’ve done for a long time, and I was a boss,” he continued. “I hired people. I ran the site. [Well], I didn’t really run the site. Mark Mravic really ran the site because I was always out or writing. I think I’ve gotten to the point where the boss part of it is probably not something I’m going to continue doing because you have to make choices in life. For a long time — for now 34 years covering the NFL — I’ve thrown myself into my job and I’ve worked pretty constantly and pretty hard.
“I sometimes wake up and say Is that all there is? I feel bad for my wife, quite honestly, because she’s sacrificed for me for all of our marriage, for 38 years. So, whatever decision I make I truly, truly do not want to think about it before the end of the Super Bowl. My contract is up at the end of March (note: He wound up continuing at least through the draft). I’ll consider my options and I’ll probably consider the best thing for me that would be maybe a little bit more manageable pace than what I’ve done.”
We went through a period in late 2012/early 2013 where ESPN and NBC made a run at enticing Peter King to leave SI, but he remained there to launch the MMQB. Given that he has said on the record that he’d like to at least scale that aspect of his career back, it will be interesting to see whether or to what extent he stays on at SI this time around.